Why are Millenials Leaving the Church…?

In a recent post by Rachel Held Evans on CNN’s belief blog she addresses the question of why millenials are leaving the church. She contends the church often makes the mistake of seeking to be “more relevant”.

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.

This focus is a mistake. She cites the appeal of more traditional liturgical expressions of the faith found in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. Many millenials, like herself, are drawn into these communities because:

the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic…What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

She also cites the desire for an end to church based participation in the culture wars and greater tolerance and inclusivity on LGBT issues.

If millenials are drawn to Rome and the East because of substance not style, then they want more traditional and conservative expressions of Christianity. The Catholic and Orthodox are more traditional on LBGT issues than most of their Protestant counterparts, certainly more so on participation of women in the full life and leadership of the church. They are also more authoritarian. And in the West these communions are aligning with conservative Protestants to stoke the fire of the culture wars rather than let the embers cool.

Evans, like many evangelicals also fails to take cultural trends that make things like atheism attractive seriously, as Jeffrey Tayler points out in a recent piece for the Atlantic.

The question of fidelity in the Church’s missionary, evangelistic and shepherding efforts is a crucial one. It might require more careful and reflective analysis.


The Gospel isn’t about us, it’s for us, but it also includes us.

Reading more in Volume IV of Barth’s Church Dogmatics, in part 2. There Barth talks about the way that the Church is part of the totus Christus, or the whole Christ. It is popular today to talk about the Church as the extension of the Incarnation. Barth denies this, but doesn’t shy away for talking about the way the Church is included in Christ:

Similarly the formula ἐν (Ἰησοῦ) Χριστῷ*, which is so common in the Pauline Epistles, indicates the place or sphere in which (determined absolutely by it) there takes place the divine working, creating and endowing which moves the apostle and his communities, and also the divine revealing, questioning, inviting and demanding, and the corresponding human thanking and thinking and speaking and believing and obeying. The ἐν Χριστῷ* denotes the place where the sancta* are proffered and the sancti* are engaged in the realisation of their communio* with them and therefore with one another. Jesus Christ is, and in His being the apostles and communities are. For this reason, directly or indirectly everything that is said about the being of Jesus Christ can be only an explication of the being of Jesus Christ, and everything that is said about the being of Jesus Christ applies directly or indirectly to the being of Christians. A single presupposition emerges, and for Paul and His communities this is not a hypothesis or theory (and therefore not a problem); in the light of Easter, and in a present because renewed confrontation with the revelation of Easter Day, it is as self-evident as the air which they breathe. For this presupposition is simply the fact that the crucified Jesus Christ lives. But He lives—and this is now the decisive point—as the totus Christus*. And this means that, although He lives also and primarily as the exalted Son of Man, at the right hand of the Father, in the hiddenness of God (with the life of Christians), at an inaccessible height above the world and the community, He does not live only there but lives too (in the power of His Holy Spirit poured out from there and working here) on earth and in world history, in the little communities at Thessalonica and Corinth and Philippi, in Galatia and at Rome. He does not live primarily in their knowledge and faith and prayer and confession, or in their Christian being, but as the place in which all this can and may and must and will happen, in which they are Christians; as the air which they breathe, the ground on which they stand and walk. As we are told in Jn. 15:4f., they have no being or life apart from Him, just as the branches are nothing apart from the vine but can only wither and be burned: “Without me ye can do nothing.” But they need not try to do anything without Him. He is the vine, and they are the branches.

Why The Gospel Is For Us But Not About Us

Was doing some re-reading today in Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV.1. Barth is remarking on what it means for Christ’s work to be “for us”. He makes clear why the Church is not an extension of the Incarnation:

But we must be careful that the strict “for us” that we have to do with here does not become a “with us” which unites our existence with that of Jesus Christ, in which He is simply the author and initiator of what has to be fulfilled in and through us on the same level, in His discipleship and in fellowship with Him, as though the redemptive happening which has to be proclaimed and believed under His name were something which embraces both Him and us. It is true that Jesus Christ is the fellow-man who goes before us as an example and shows us the way. It is true that there is a discipleship, a fellowship with Him, and therefore an existence of Christians. It is true that what took place in Him, the redemptive happening which has to be proclaimed and believed under His name, does embrace Christian existence and in a certain sense all human existence. But if we are to look and think and speak more precisely it is not a redemptive happening which embraces both Him and us, but the redemptive happening which embraces us in His existence, which takes us up into itself. He is the fellow-man who goes before us as an example and shows us the way because and in the power of the fact that He is “for us”: in a “for us” which cannot be equated with any “with us,” by which every conceivable “with us” is established—as it were from without, from which all discipleship must derive its meaning and its power. Discipleship, the being of the Christian with Him, rests on the presupposition and can be carried through only on the presupposition that Jesus Christ is in Himself “for us”—without our being with Him, without any fulfilment of our being either with or after Him—on the contrary (Rom. 5:6f.), even when we were without strength, godless, and enemies. He does not become “for us” when there is some self-fulfilment either with or after Him, but He is for us in Himself, quite independently of how we answer the question which is put to us of our fulfilment with or after Him. The event of redemption took place then and there in Him, and therefore “for us.” In Him, as that which p 230 took place then and there, it embraces us, it becomes the basis of fellowship, it calls us to discipleship, but not in such a way that it becomes an event of redemption only through our obedience to this call, or is not an event of redemption through our disobedience, but in such a way that as the event of redemption which took place for us in Him it always comes before the question of our obedience or disobedience, it is always in itself the event of redemption which took place for us, whatever may be our answer to that question.

Barth, K., Bromiley, G. W., & Torrance, T. F. (2004). Church dogmatics, Volume IV: The doctrine of God, Part 1 (pp. 229–230). London: T&T Clark.